After it’s first weekend in business, Village Kitchen is “buzzing” with a new energy, according to executive chef Andre Natera.
The 8,000-square foot space was formerly occupied by Village Marquee, a fine dining location that closed at the end of July after struggling to be profitable. Owners re-imagined the space into Village Kitchen, which opened Aug. 22, and Toko V, which is expected to open in mid September.
Natera said the new restaurant is a total change from Village Marquee and therefore will be much more successful in Highland Park Village.
“What it boils down to is Village Marquee was more of a special occasion restaurant and Village Kitchen is a neighborhood restaurant based on what the neighborhood wants,” Natera said. “It’s a more approachable concept.”
Natera said the reason Village Marquee had trouble in the area was because it couldn’t keep up with the changing demographic. Village Kitchen was designed specifically to cater to what people are looking for in a dining experience, he said.
“People want to eat at a dining location they are comfortable at,” Natera said. “They want a place where they don’t feel like they have to be on their best behavior.”
To match the casual atmosphere Village Kitchen is working to create, the menu focuses on American classics elevated to a restaurant level. This means the chef is serving up home favorites like macaroni and cheese, roasted chicken and old fashioned hamburgers and shakes. The goal is to provide a menu people will be able to understand and immediately identify with, and then serve up a high quality item they wouldn’t get at home.
The simplified menu has also cut down on price, as diners can expect to pay about half the amount they would have paid at Village Marquee, Natera said.
“We weren’t reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We took food we enjoyed eating and food America grew up on and said, ‘how can we make this better?’”
When Toko V opens, Natera will take a similar approach to the menu, making Asian cuisine more approachable. He calls it “American modern Asian food,” and it will include dishes like Thai green curry with Ramen noodles instead of Asian noodles. It also will serve sushi and other Asian favorites.
The restaurant will offer the shopping area its first Asian eatery, Natera said.
“The idea was to create a restaurant where you would have separate dining experiences that you might find in some bigger cities,” he said. “We could offer two different restaurants under one roof.”
But both eateries will have a similar casual feel, and leadership is hoping that will be the key to their success.
“I just think this is the way people eat now,” Natera said. “In the end it was all about what the neighborhood wanted.”